Start Small and Harvest Your Mistakes and Successes

Reader Contribution by Charlyn Ellis
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Although I raised vegetables in my mother’s back yard through high school and several years of college, planting it all one evening in late April and coming back, a month later, for the summer growing season, my first real garden was three washtubs, spray-painted yellow, blue, and red, on my back patio in Boston, Massachusetts. I was in graduate school, without a yard, and too old to travel home weekends to tend my old patch, which was growing up in mint. I planted a cucumber in one tub, marigolds in the second, and a cherry tomato in the third. The tomato was for my boyfriend—I did not like tomatoes. I mean, who would—hard pink things with no flavor that they were. They added color to an iceburg lettuce salad, but nothing else. All three crops grew beautifully in the warm protected space.

I remember that patio tomato regularly when I walk into my lush backyard to survey the gardens and when I dream, occasionally, about moving out of town onto our own forty acre farm, complete with orchard and goats and a big dog. Maybe we will, but I really doubt it. We like walking to the library and grocery store too much to leave our little house in town. And not everybody can live in the country—but everyone can bring some of that country, that producing your own food, setting yourself up for the winter, reducing your dependence on outside forces dream to wherever they live right now.

Start Small

• Shop at the Farmer’s Market. Learn four recipes for the uncommon vegetables, like winter squash, kale and chard, fennel, and parsnips.
• Make some jam and applesauce from foraged fruit. Use a big pasta pot to seal the jars. If that goes well, buy a steam canner and some more jars.
• Stash a few squashes under the bed for the winter. Expand to onions.
• Pot up some herbs for the back patio. If you can, plant them in terra cotta and sink them into the ground for the summer. Raise tomatoes and lettuce in pots.
• Plant a community garden plot. Tend it all summer.
• Dream…ride your bike to the public library and read.

If you do these things, you will be, first of all, living a version of the dream today, rather than waiting for perfection in the future. And, if you ever do acquire that forty acre farm with the sraw bale house, you will already have many of the skills you need to succeed.

The Recipe, from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two (The 1982 Version)

Italian Potato and Cheese Casserole


• 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled, chunked, and lightly boiled
• 6 tbsp of melted butter
• 1.5 pounds of ripe tomatoes, sliced
• Salt, pepper, and fresh basil
• 2/3 pound of mozzarella cheese, sliced
• 6 hard boiled eggs
• 2/3 cup of chopped fresh parsley
• 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese


1. Spread 2 tablespoons of butter in the casserole dish.

2. Layer potatoes, tomatoes, salt/pepper/basil, then repeat.

3. Spread the sliced cheese over the top.

4. Peel and chop the eggs, mix with parsley, butte, and a bit of salt and pepper.

5. Layer over mozzarella, then sprinkle the Parmesan over all.

Bake in a 350degree Farrenheit oven for about half an hour.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at 21st Street Urban Homestead. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to her website and Blue Camas Press.

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